Senate investigates FDA's proposed '09 budget.
The committee currently is reviewing how much taxpayer money will be needed for the FDA in fiscal year 2009, which starts in October. To be adequately funded to protect public health, a panel of external experts recently assembled by the FDA said the agency needs an additional $375 million to improve its oversight activities, and the Senate passed a resolution supporting such an increase. The Bush Administration, through the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)--which is responsible for devising and submitting the president's annual budget proposal to Congress--has put forth a $54 million increase (a little more than 3%) to $1.77 billion. In addition to spending that comes from taxpayer revenue, the agency also has budgeted for $628 million in new user fees in 2009 paid by drug and medical device manufacturers.
"The FDA has a responsibility to ensure that these products are safe and effective," said Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI), the subcommittee's chairman. "However, the FDA's budget request does not keep pace with the agency's huge responsibilities."
Kohl went on to say he found it "hard to believe" that the FDA's budget request as currently planned would "reach anywhere near" the goals FDA has set for inspections and employee recruitment. The subcommittee's ranking minority member, Sen. Robert Bennett (R-UT), agreed with Kohl and, while thanking von Eschenbach for his "stewardship in defense of the agency," attempted to coax the commissioner into saying how much more funding the agency actually could use.
"The FDA's regulatory authority is vast, with $1.5 billion worth of expenditures. We more often hear about problems rather than successes. But there have been problems--the recall of heparin, the recall of tainted food and pot food recalls due to contaminated ingredients from China," Bennett said. "It seems as if the budget is inadequate to meet challenges. It may be our responsibility to fix OMB's mistake here. We all benefit from a strong and well-funded FDA. If we move to help you, we want to move to an area that is prudent and not extravagant."
If lawmakers decided that the White House "was wrong and you needed to add another $100 million--just to pull a number completely out of the air--could you handle that?" Bennett asked von Eschenbach, acknowledging that the question put the commissioner "on the spot" between defending the administration's proposed budget and perhaps admitting that the funding would not go far enough.
The commissioner said he would "welcome an opportunity to present a scenario of portfolio options" for levels of financing, adding that he did not believe the agency could absorb the recommended $375 million increase in one year.
Von Eschenbach said the FDA has plans to hire up to 700 new employees, but he acknowledged that there would not be enough money to do any hiring next year if Congress adopted the president's budget without any changes.
According to Kohl, the $54 million increase barely covers standard-of-living wage increases for existing staff and would not accommodate additional hires or new spending for medical device, drug or food safety programs--particularly for increased international facility inspections. Kohl specifically cited the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) as experiencing a decrease in staff in the coming year.
"We are on a trajectory to increased staff. We just have to push it off a little," von Eschenbach said, commenting on agency staff overall. For the CDRH, the commissioner sidestepped specifics, but said the FDA would "find ways to leverage current resources and programs and continue to make strategic investments." He also said continued focus by the CDRH and industry on post-market surveillance would help.
"I believe we have been eminently successful up to this period of time," von Eschenbach said. "We are the world's gold standard. But if we want to continue that level of excellence, we must change."
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|Title Annotation:||NEWS FRONT|
|Publication:||Orthopedic Design & Technology|
|Date:||May 1, 2008|
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